Reactions of dehydrodiferulates with ammonia†
Lignocellulosic materials derived from forages and agricultural residues are potential sustainable resources for production of bioethanol or other liquid biofuels. However, the natural recalcitrance of such materials to enzymatic hydrolysis is a major obstacle in their efficient utilization. In grasses, much of the recalcitrance is associated with ferulate cross-linking in the cell wall, i.e., with polysaccharide–polysaccharide cross-linking that results from ferulate dehydrodimerization or with lignin–polysaccharide cross-linking that results from the incorporation of (polysaccharide-bound) ferulates or diferulates into lignin, mainly via free-radical coupling reactions. Many pretreatment methods have been developed to address recalcitrance, with ammonia pretreatments in general, and the AFEX (Ammonia Fiber Expansion) process in particular, among the more promising methods. In order to understand the polysaccharide liberating reactions involved in the cleavage of diferulate cell wall cross-links during AFEX pretreatment, reaction products from five esters modeling the major diferulates in grass cell walls treated under AFEX-like conditions were separated and characterized by NMR and HR-MS. Results from this study indicate that, beyond the anticipated amide products, a range of degradation products derive from an array of cleavage and substitution reactions, and reveal various pathways for incorporating ammonia-based nitrogen into biomass.